Music City Code = Music to My Ears

So I went to conference last week called Music City Code. If you’re using context clues, you have guessed that the event took place in Nashville and was targeted toward developers. Right you are, my friend. Give yourself a gold star. But here’s the thing: I am not a developer. Nope. Haven’t written a line of code in my career. How in the heck did I find myself at a three-day (okay, I only attended two days) conference for developers? For one, the company that I work for was a platinum sponsor at the event and wanted a good presence of employees in attendance. Makes sense. When presented with the opportunity to go, I initially wrote off the conference and then asked to attend after reviewing the schedule and finding several sessions that addressed soft skills that could be useful in any line of work. I’ll have a white wine with my crow, thank you very much. I won’t go into a lot of details on the sessions themselves but there were a couple of personal takeaways that I feel are worthy of sharing.

1: Illustrative notes are the coolest thing EVER.

In select sessions, Melinda Walker from One Squiggly Line created illustrative notes as the speaker was delivering their message. The blend of artistry and listening is the best form of active listening I’ve ever witnessed. Bonus: it was so neat to see an art form as a primary component at a developer conference. Go check out her site, I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

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Nancy Gaines (left) and Melinda Walker (right)

2: Everyone had positive things to say about BAs!

Each time I introduced myself as a BA, it was met with “A great BA is critical to smooth projects.” or “That’s an important role!” These comments immediately put me at ease since I felt a little bit like an imposter being at the conference in the first place.

3: I develop software too!

This one kind of blew my mind, but when I think about it, it’s so true! Even though I do not write the code, or even know how to write code in the first place, it doesn’t mean that I am not contributing to the same goal of building workable and effective software to our customers. This one comment from Byron Sommardahl who led the “Event Storming” session was quite the revelation for me. No more will I explain my role as “interpreting what the business wants to the development team”. Yes, that does happen but the empowerment behind that phrase means I do more than create shared understanding between stakeholders and makes me feel fired up to do this work.

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Event Storming with Byron Sommardahl (he’s playing with the post-its)

4: My public speaking nervousness has been curbed. Somewhat.

I consider any speaking in front of groups of more than 5 to be public speaking. It just freaks me out to even lift my hand and ask a question in front of groups. However, I did so repeatedly at the conference and did not experience the typical queasiness. After all, you can’t find your voice if you don’t raise it. I wasn’t quite ready to rock out at the Geek Jam, but baby steps. I’ll get there one day.

5: The lines at the ladies room were way too short.

I’m probably the first woman to ever complain about that but it speaks to the small presence of women represented at the conference. Now, this isn’t a dig on the conference itself, I mean – the people who chose to attend are just that, but it is indicative that the presence of females in the tech industry are still smaller than the presence of men. With that said, I did see a fair number of women in attendance, and there were a couple of noteworthy female speakers, but the majority in attendance was men.

In the end, Music City Code was one of the better conferences that I’ve ever attended and it’s inspired me to put words to paper (or screen) again and talk about how being the oddball on a team doesn’t mean that I don’t add value to it. As David Neal, the Reverent Geek himself said in his keynote on Friday “You don’t need permission to be awesome”. No sir, I do not.

-Stephanie

BEA is B.I.G.

A First Time Attendees’ Experience

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Last week I attended the BookExpo America, or BEA for short, in Chicago. For those unfamiliar, BEA is the largest book convention in North America. Being a first time attendee, I was unprepared for the size, busyness, and extent to which BEA would exhaust me. BEA gives authors, booksellers, distributors, buyers, and librarians a chance to converge at a single event and Ingram has a large presence. My contribution in the Ingram booth was to conduct demonstrations of our ebook applications, CoreSource and Construct. CoreSource is an industry recognized distribution asset management (DAM) tool for publishers to store and distribute their e-content to online retailers and Construct allows publishers to access their stored content and use it to build new custom content. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a fear of public speaking so this was a pretty big, and nerve-wracking, opportunity for me. So here is a summary of my BEA experience.

Day 1 – May 11, 2016

The show opened at 1:00 pm but my first demo didn’t begin until 4:00 pm so I had a bit of time to kill. When I walked onto the floor, it was hard not to be awestruck. McCormick Place had been transformed into a shopping mallesque bookstore. The room was so large that giant orange banners hung from the ceiling, marking the row numbers of the floor map. It was pretty easy to locate the Ingram booth, as it was towered by a huge cube shaped banner that read “INGRAM” on each of the four sides. It was pretty impossible to miss.IMG_3356

After “checking in” at the Ingram booth and getting the inside tip on the
nearest restroom (always a key point), I decided to explore around a bit. Thanks to the BEA mobile app, I knew prior to arrival that one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, would be signing copies of his new book at 2:00 pm.  I got in line right at 2:00 pm and finally got my book signed 50 minutes later. The waiting wasn’t all that bad though because I struck up conversation with the people around me. The lady in front of me had attended the last 10 BEA’s so I was able to get her perspective on the show this year compared to recent years when the show was hosted in NYC.

After getting my book signed, I started walking up and down the rows. There were a few things that I noticed:

  • Nearly each booth (and most of them are publishers) gave away tote bags for carrying around all of the books you could pick up. Some of those totes were really cool and witty!
  • Not all books are free but you can definitely score some great reads for no cost if you don’t mind reading the galleys or advanced reader copies. As for me, I’m not picky.
  • Even after a couple of hours, people were loaded down with books. I’m talking struggling with multiple totes that were bulging at the sides, or pulling once empty suitcases that were now filled with books.
  • The show wasn’t limited to publishers. One called Out of Print sold clothing inspired by famous books, featuring t-shirts, socks, and aprons with quotes or well-known book covers. I snagged a free box of matches that had the cover of Fahrenheit 451 on it.
  • Adult coloring books were all the rage. They were everywhere and some booths even had coloring murals that anyone walking by could contribute to.

When it was time to perform my first demo, I hoofed it back to home base. I had back to back demos of CoreSource and Construct and then I got the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

Day 2 – May 12, 2016

The exhibit hall opened at 9:00 am and my first demo was scheduled at 10:15 am. After locating a local bakery for breakfast at the recommendation of a friend and colleague, I arrived to the hall around 9:30 am. I touched base with a publisher who has an account with CoreSource and then launched into my demos. The thing about the demos is that people would hang around and chat afterwards so they ended up taking more time than I initially thought. By the time I finished the first session, I had about an hour to grab lunch at the food court on the second floor before my next session of demos began at 2:00 pm.

With this being the first full day of the show, the food court was packed. I ended up eating half of my lunch at a standing counter before a table opened up. I shared the table with two strangers and a colleague from the booth who happened to be looking for a place to sit. One of the strangers explained that she is a book blogger so we told her about a recent acquisition that Ingram made of a company called Aer.io that would allow her to sell books from the Aer.io catalog on her blog. We shared the times of the Aer.io demos that would be occurring over the next two days and encouraged her to attend.

I was able to walk around the show a bit before my afternoon demos. One of the vendors that I discovered was called Litographs. Each year they create a tattoo chain based on a title. This year’s title was a personal favorite, Alice in Wonderland.

So here’s how it worked:

  • Lines from the book were available as temporary tattoos with a number assignment, indicating the position of the quote in the collective book.
  • You applied the tattoo to your forearm.
  • You took a picture of your tattoo and emailed it to the Litograph team with the number assignment in the subject line.
  • Your picture is printed and hung in order with all of the other quotes, creating a tattoo chain that tells the story in sequential order.

This was the day that I discovered the self-author area. I browsed around and talked to some really interesting, and eager, authors and was pleased to discover that our own Lightning Source print on demand facility had printed the majority of the books.

Day 3 – May 13, 2016

Demos began at 9:45 am. I had hopes of getting a copy of a Penguin Random House title called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch but the author did not begin signing books until 10:00 am. By the time I was finished with the morning demos, all of the copies were gone and replaced by a different title. So it goes!

By this day, my feet were extremely sore and so was my mouth due to all the talking. I stayed pretty close to the Ingram booth when I didn’t have a demo and tried to make myself helpful. People would walk up, looking thoroughly confused – either they didn’t know who to speak to about an issue or they had a meeting scheduled with an Ingram associate and could not locate them. Fortunately, I was able to direct several people to their proper place.

Final Thoughts

BEA was a unique opportunity for me and one that I certainly appreciate. I was able to connect with a lot of colleagues that I haven’t worked with in quite awhile, establish new relationships with associates I’ve heard of or only exchanged emails with, and gained a new perspective on the book industry as a whole. My day-to-day routine at work involves data about books – their metadata, when the content reaches the system, when it needs to go out of the system, who needs to access the data, and so on; that I lose perspective on what all of these bits of data translates into. By playing a role in CoreSource and Construct, I assist with making all kinds of rich, informative, and creative content reach the hands and minds of readers all over the globe. Overall, I would sum up BEA as a connection opportunity; connecting with colleagues, connecting with content, and connecting the minutia of book data to the greater picture of the book industry.

 

Say What?

This week’s networking event was ModSocial. The group meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month at Refinery Nashville from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Founded by Kirsty Hughan, of Seamless Marketing, and Suki Mulberg Altamirano in 2014, Mod helps women be authentic and confident and encourages others to do the same. Mod is short for Modernist, Modification, and Modulation. This month’s Social featured speaker and life coach Chiara Sulprizio, Ph.D.

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Kirsty Hughan and Me 🙂

The format of ModSocial is very laid back and conversational. After a brief time of networking, the event begins with everyone standing in a circle to introduce themselves. Just hearing the passionate pursuits of this mighty group of women is inspiring. I can’t help but think, “I want to be like that when I grow up!” It’s also nice that the group doesn’t focus on one industry so there is a great mix of fields and roles represented in the group, creating terrific networking opportunities. Once the introductions were done, we all listened to Chiara speak about communication. I’ll summarize the points of advice she offered for being better, more effective and authentic communicators. These can apply to both work situations as well as personal. The ability to communicate well is easily the most critical part of my role at ICG so my ears were perked.

The Practical Woman’s Approach to Communication

Presented by Chiara Sulprizio, Ph.D.

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Chiara Sulprizio, Ph.D.

Effective communication is a skill that must be practiced over time in order to be stellar at it. It’s just not something that we were innately born to do well. Before we can make efforts to be better communicators, attention should be paid to the message we want to express, what we want the receiver to hear, and the result we are aiming for from the communication. Chiara offered a 4-step process to help us find our voices and have the things we say be substantive and true to ourselves.

Step 1 – Cultivate a Practice Mindset

By keeping the drive to be a better communicator at the forefront of your mind, it will impact every conversation you have. In the 24 hours since hearing this speech, I’ve entered every conversation with more mental purpose. Instead of just saying words, I am focusing on the message I am conveying.

Step 2 – Actively Create Opportunities to Practice Communication

The take away I have from this step is to seek ways to practice communicating every chance that you can. The environment of the communication isn’t as important as the consistent effort we put in to being better at it. Chiara made a great point that we shouldn’t wait for those bad or uncomfortable conversations to start practicing how to make them go better.

Step 3 – Write

By writing every day, an improvement in your verbal communication will manifest. I started this blog as a class project but the more that I delve into the message I want to express, I can definitely see the benefit of writing those thoughts out. The act of writing forces me to be more organized and thoughtful about the content of my messages. Chiara offered some additional advice in that creating a 3-point bullet list for the conversation (especially if they are difficult), will help you keep focus and stay on target.

Step 4 – Draw on Others as a Resource

Is there is a speaker, thought leader, or colleague who’s communication style you admire, find ways to observe their style in action. Watching videos of them in action and taking notes will assist in emulating their style. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery!

After her speech, we broke into groups of three to role play on various communication situations. I had the pleasure of working with Brooke Shippee and Chiara’s mom, Eva. Through the role play, we investigated that sometime we respond in ways that we immediately don’t agree with or are uncomfortable with, and that there are ways to deliver a negative message so that it doesn’t come across as too aggressive. Even in the role play, I had trouble not responding with “I’m sorry” to a request that I was supposed to turn down.

I hope this post is helpful if communication is an area in which you struggle. I will certainly be focusing on these steps as I go through my day in an effort to exhibit communication prowess!

ModSocial 2

Recapping What We Learned

Stay sassy,

SS

User Story Workshop

Last week I attended a Nashville Girl Geek Dinner workshop for the first time. My initial goal for attending was as a reconnaissance mission because I wanted to know more about the forum and the audience size of the workshop. You see, every month a different company sponsors the GGD and Ingram is sponsoring the July event and have asked me to be on the speaker panel. This is HUGE for me because I have a fear of public speaking. However, talking in front of groups is becoming a prevalent part of my job and I don’t want to turn down good networking opportunities because of a fear that I could probably become comfortable with if I put some effort into it. Part of that effort is to say, “yes” to things like being on a panel without giving myself time to get nervous about it. When I realized that the workshop was on “How to Write Effective User Stories”, I knew that it was for me because user stories come up often when talking to developers about new functionality for the system.

What’s a user story, you ask? Thanks to the workshop, I can break it down for you.

A story is essentially a person with a problem but a user story takes the person and the problem and adds the benefit that the user wants to achieve. User stories come up a lot when talking about agile methodologies on developer teams because a well written user story tells a developer, in everyday language, how the system should function to proceed with coding. User stories can be written using a basic formula to tell explain the “who”, “what”, and “why” of the change being requested.

“As a user, I want to do something, so that I gain this benefit.”

The user story we had for the workshop went like this, “As a business owner, I want a workshop so that I can express my ideas to developers.”

User Story Whiteboard

Workshop Objectives

Good user stories meet the criteria of the INVEST mnemonic.

  • Independent – the story is a single entity of work and is not dependent on another user story
  • Negotiable – can be changed or rewritten as needed
  • Valuable – provides value to the user
  • Estimable – the time to complete the story can be estimated
  • Small – the work to achieve the story can be completed in a sprint
  • Testable – there are ways to verify the success of the story by way of acceptance criteria

    User Story Card

    My Efforts

Once we had an idea of what a user story was and how to write them, we were presented with a real world scenario to create user stories for. David Blutenthal, the CEO and co-founder of an app called Moodsnap – “a music storytelling network that combines music and images to spur discovery and deeper connections” provided samples of user personas that would use the app. Based on these personas, the attendees created user stories to solve problems that a real user might have or want to do with the app. It was motivating to hear people around the room come up with different user scenarios and issues and detail those in the form of a user story that could be taken back to a developer team.

At the end of the night, I not only got a feel for how the dinners are formatted, but I also left with a skill that I can take back to work to help create shared understanding between our business owners and the developers about changes to the platform. I’d call that a productive evening!

Stay sassy,

SS

Welcome to Tech Sassy!

Hello Readers!

I’d like to welcome you to the Tech Sassy blog! Here I will use my personal journey of working in an information technology (IT) role to show how I navigated and became comfortable as a woman in a male dominated department and how I refused to compromise on my personality in order to play a valued role in the organization. My goal is that through the sharing of my experiences, I can be an inspiration to other women who struggle to find their authentic voices because I think we all have valuable things to say.

To give you some background on why I feel that I have authority in this area, here is how I came to be on an IT team:

Three years ago I was working on the customer facing team of the CoreSource platform at Ingram Content Group (ICG).  For those who aren’t familiar, CoreSource is a digital asset management tool for publishers. We store thousands of e-content files and the associated metadata for publishers and distribute them to hundreds of retailers (think of folks like Google, Apple, and Amazon – to name a few). I wasn’t really happy in the role and had been looking for new opportunities internally for awhile. When a role opened as a business systems analyst for CoreSource on the developer team, I jumped at the opportunity. The role was new to the team and I had no experience, but I had a lot of professional relationships within the company and the hiring manager had faith in me and offered me the job.

Initially, I struggled in many areas:

  • Learning a new technology language. (Jargon, jargon, and more jargon.)
  • Learning what a business analyst did and how to do it.
  • Having to create my own work processes without following the path of a predecessor.
  • Being the only woman on the team and in most meetings.
  • Showing bravery to ask questions that the team already knew.

My confidence was shaken at many times and I confess to not speaking up as often as I should. However, three years later, I feel that I have progressed well on the team and I have grown to treasure my unique role on it. I have been very fortunate to have co-workers and a manager who are all very patient with me and respect me as they would any male colleague. With that said, the struggles that women have in male dominated arenas is a hot topic and I’ve heard many stories (and have my own firsthand accounts) in which the suggestions of a female have been either bypassed entirely or not taken seriously when first raised. It’s hard not to take it personally when it happens, and I think that reacting with grace is the best tactic (also easier said than done).

My hope is that I can offer some real perspective on this topic. I will use this blog as a record of my professional development, share ways in which I am taking ownership of my career path through attending classes and networking events, and giving my honest feelings on the growth of the female position in technology industries.

Stay sassy,

SS